From the Hotline: Seattle’s “Ban the Box” Law

Question: We have employees in Seattle and would like detailed information about the “Ban the Box” law and how it might impact us.

Answer: Seattle’s “Job Assistance Ordinance” became effective November 1, 2013 and regulates employers’ use of arrest and conviction records when making employment decisions regarding individuals who perform work in the city of Seattle at least 50 percent of the time. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) has the authority to implement and enforce the provisions of the ordinance.

The ordinance applies to Seattle employers with one or more employees, except that “employer” does not include the U.S. government, the state of Washington, or any county or local government other than the city. The ordinance also does not apply to jobs related to law enforcement or jobs which include unsupervised access to children under 16 years of age, developmentally disabled people, or vulnerable adults.

Employers subject to the ordinance must not:

  • Advertise, publicize, or implement any policy or practice which automatically excludes individuals with arrest or conviction records from employment. For example, job ads with language such as “no felons” or “no criminal convictions” are not permitted.
  • Take adverse employment action based solely on an arrest record. Employers may inquire about conduct relating to an arrest but may not take adverse employment action based on such conduct unless there is a legitimate business reason.
  • Take adverse employment action based solely on a criminal conviction or pending criminal charge unless there is a legitimate business reason.
  • Retaliate against persons for exercising their rights under the ordinance.

When considering whether to deny employment based on a conviction, the employer must consider the nature of the conviction, the number and types of convictions, how much time has passed since the conviction, the job relatedness of the conviction, where and how the job will be performed, and the individual’s rehabilitation or good conduct.

Employers subject to the ordinance must:

  • Provide the applicant or employee with the arrest, charge, or conviction information on which any pending adverse employment decision is based.
  • Allow the applicant or employee a minimum of two days to respond or correct the information.
  • Hold open the position for which the applicant or employee is applying for or employed in for at least two days after providing the applicant or employee with the information.

Penalties

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) has the authority to initiate investigation and enforcement procedures on its own, without a complaining applicant or employee. Employers that violate the ordinance are subject to the following penalties:

  • For a first violation, the SOCR will issue an infraction notice and offer assistance with compliance.
  • For the second violation, the SOCR will impose a penalty of up to $750.
  • For subsequent violations, the SOCR will impose a penalty of up to $1,000.
  • Additionally, the employer may also be subject to attorney fees that the SOCR incurs.

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